Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Definitions of The 5 Strategies of Social Change; Comparison and Contrasts

Community Coalitions - creating organizations which represent a multitude of community groups and bring together the collective resources of these groups in order to reach a common goal which would be difficult for the individual groups to reach on their own. The Chicago Abused Women’s Coalition formed in response to rising awareness of the high incidence of battered wives in America. It consisted of the Salvation Army Emergency Lodge, the Pacific Garden Mission - Unshackled, and the Gospel League Shelter (Schechter, p 55). This is a valid strategy of change because of its utilization of strength in resources, and strength in membership, thus increasing its influence in a given movement.

Strengths: the strength of community coalitions is in the fact that it is a multitude of smaller groups fighting for a greater cause. The larger the coalition the more influence it may have both legislatively as well as geographically.

Weaknesses: Some of the members of these coalitions may have hidden agendas, as was the case with the Pacific Garden Mission -Unshackled and the Gospel League Shelter, which both required women to attend Bible classes, plus imposing religion on the women who seek the services (ibid.).

Consciousness-raising - increasing awareness, bringing a new understanding of issues, both on the political level and a personal level. The 1970s term “the Personal is Political” exemplifies how personal aspects within one’s life, such as wage equality, are political issues. This is a valid strategy of change, and to be used under the premise that the general public is unaware of these issues. If the public is already aware of these issues, then it would be logical to onto the next step for example social action.

Examples of consciousness-raising would be circulating petitions, utilizing such websites as for such a purpose, or the use of other social media. It can be combined with other forms of spreading the word such as distributing flyers, posters, etc. This strategy was used to great effect during the organization of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to 1956 to spread the word of the planned boycott via the use of phone trees, flyers, and discussion throughout local churches (Robinson, p 55).

Strengths: the strength of consciousness raising lies in its ability to quickly get the word out and attract attention (often times via the media) to a given issue and in its ability to mobilize people for given cause.

Weaknesses: An obvious weakness of consciousness-raising is that the same media which pays attention to it can also contort it in order to make the activists appear extremist, irrational, disorganized, etc, thus running the risk of potentially hurting the movement.

Social Action - constructive conflict, in particular confronting and challenging government and other figures in positions of authority. This enables disenfranchised populations to empower themselves by organizing around a common goal utilizing such things as protests, boycotts, petitions, etc. This is a valid strategy of change if the conditions are right within a given society. In the case of the social climate in Lithuania, which I will go into in more detail in section B, this is a more complex and problematic dilemma.

An example of this would be: Daniel Sotomayor, the leader of the Chicago branch of ACT UP, who in the 1980s, confronted Mayor Richard Daley with a banner stating “Daley, tell the truth about AIDS” thus illustrating how social action can be used to confront figures of authority. Another fine example is that of Alice Paul, who was fearless in her fight for the women’s right to vote and got arrested numerous times and placed in solitary confinement.

Strengths: the strengths of this strategy are that they bring attention to social issues which may otherwise get swept under the rug by the media. The media is drawn to drama, therefore, this type of extreme behaviour would draw media attention, thus giving free publicity to the movement.

Weaknesses: D’Emilio demonstrates that the growing visibility of gays and lesbians in the public eye also increased the risk of violence being perpetrated against them. This, in turn, would necessitate yet one more issue regarding rights which would need to be addressed utilizing a strategy of change, in this particular case, the Hate Crime Statistics Act (D’Emilio, The World Turned, p 107).

Alternative Settings - would entail the creation of spaces as alternatives to mainstream settings. Mainstream settings would include but are not limited to the following: churches, schools, and other such institutions which would utilize a hierarchical system of administration. An example of alternative settings would be the formation of LGBTQ community centers throughout the country and throughout the world. LGBTQ community centers provide a myriad of activities, support groups, counseling services, safe spaces for LGBTQ youth in need, and other services. This is a valid strategy of change as long as it is not taken too far, as was the case in Berlin in the late 80s early 90s (see “weaknesses”).

Strengths: one of the strengths of alternative settings is that it creates a safe space for disenfranchised individuals in a community where they can feel free to bring up issues and concerns which otherwise may harm them in more mainstream settings.

 Weaknesses: one of the weaknesses of alternative settings would be the question of staffing. If it is staffed by volunteers then it would be difficult to keep everyone dedicated and focused. Some volunteers may just lose interest over time, thus requiring the search for someone to replace that person as well as the training of the new individual. Another weakness would be the fact that some alternative settings outlive their usefulness, as was the case with the Van Dykes, who traveled throughout this the country as a utopian separatist group. They were unable to sustain a nomadic lifestyle in the long run due to a combination of infighting, the price of essentials such as gas, food, etc. (Levy, p 4). Another weakness of this strategy is when it is taken too far. This was the case with the lesbian feminist movements in Berlin, which had female space only caf├ęs, restaurants, clubs, and community center. This imposed their philosophy of separatism onto the community at large, without giving individuals the option of an alternative to “their alternative.”
Policy, Research and Advocacy - conducting research which would inform and influence government, public policy, laws etc. An example of this strategy is utilized by the NGLTF (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), an organization which works tirelessly to lift bans and prohibitions against homosexuality. The NGLTF worked with allies in various fields of mental health in order to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) published by the American Psychiatric Association. This was a major leap forward because up until that point, homosexual behaviour was treated as a mental condition which could be “cured.” (UCDavis). This is a valid strategy of change because it involves empirical method of research, logic, and legislative law in order to implement change.

Strengths: one of the strengths of this strategy is that it helps with “leaping” forward in bold moves, as described in the “leaping and creeping” stages of social movements (D’Emilio, class lecture). Another advantage of this strategy is that the activism and the resulting “leaps” make it to the national (and sometimes international) news, thus setting a precedent for the same issues in other states and, hopefully, other countries.

Weaknesses: the weakness of research, policy, and advocacy is that it can only work under certain social conditions. Case in point, the current social climate within Lithuania regarding LGBT rights would not be conducive for utilizing research, policy, and advocacy because the subject of homosexuality is such a new concept to the general population that first one must explain what homosexuality is. Most of the research, policy, and advocacy on behalf of LGBT individuals within Lithuania are conducted outside of the country, primarily in other European Union countries such as England and Germany. This is due to the fact that, at this point in time, the primary concern of the LGBT community is safety. The economic conditions within Lithuania have consistently grown worse since the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of hate and intolerance are sadly commonplace within the country. Members of the LGBT community within Lithuania have the advantage of being citizens of the European Union which grants them protection against discrimination. This, however, does not afford them protection under Lithuanian law. Many Lithuanian LGBT individuals fear for their lives, for their safety, for their jobs, etc. At this juncture, the LGBT movement in Lithuania is in a very early stage of its development and, sadly, cannot afford most of the luxuries enjoyed by the LGBT movement in America (European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT rights). The Lithuanian language doesn’t even have a word for homosexuality, and the subject was never discussed in Lithuanian circles during my lifetime before now. Some Lithuanians believe that homosexuality is a concept introduced into Lithuania the Russians and Putin’s administration. This only demonstrates exactly how much work lies ahead of us.

B. Compare and Contrast Strategies

The Times, They are a Changing

As time changes, so do the needs of a community as well as the needs of a particular movement. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) arose in response to the AIDS crisis. The slogan of ACT UP, “Silence = Death” emboldened many members of the community to come out of the closet and fight for the cause. This was when Social Action took center stage. Different eras call for different strategies or a combination of different strategies.
The face of social activism changed in America during the “99%” protests, when mainstream media portrayed an image of the protesters as only consisting of students and youth “with nothing better to do” and no clear agenda. In reality, these protesters represented a wide spectrum of individuals: middle-aged parents, teachers, businessmen, and other individuals of all ages were well represented in the crowd. Since mainstream media in America is owned by just a handful of wealthy individuals, such as Rupert Murdoch, who hope to protect their own self interests, this becomes an increasingly challenging hurdle to overcome when it comes to media depictions of protests and activism. In this day and age, a less harmful strategy may be well advised. I believe that a combination of Consciousness-raising via the Internet and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and the use of alternative media (TV, radio, websites, news, etc) would be more logical and effective in this modern era. An example of an alternative TV station would be LinkTV, which broadcasts “Democracy Now!” a news and current events program with a more socialist and global perspective, along with TV shows, films, documentaries from around the world (LinkTV). It would be a more logical and effective alternative to seek out these other routes. Social activism in the form of online petitions and letters to elected officials is an unfiltered form of getting the word out and being active.

The process of transforming an organization from a handful of nonhierarchical active individuals, to a larger, more complex organization, presents its own set of challenges. One of the main problems facing the growth of an organization would be successful navigation from one stage to another. The possibility that members would disagree is high when taking all the variables into account: the direction the organization should go, added responsibilities of that organization, as well as the structure of the leadership, etc. Jo Freeman wrote an essay on this topic in 1973 entitled “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” in which she discussed the disadvantage of veiled hierarchies which can be inherent in an egalitarian system within an organization. As an organization grows it may have to walk a tightrope between how it maintains an egalitarian system and how it continues to provide a given service to the community. For example, how can a shelter for battered women tend to the needs of these women while, at the same time, expanding its staff building the organization further? The operative question to ask would it still function efficiently in an orderly manner. Although an egalitarian system may function well with smaller organizations, it could prove problematic as more individuals join into the equation (Riger, 282). Thus, the alternative settings approach can proof to have its difficulties.

Alternative settings can have commonalities with community coalitions in the sense that as they grow they become more complex and have to navigate around the turbulent waters of hidden agendas of individuals/organizations. Infighting is not uncommon in both alternative settings and community coalitions, as organizational/hierarchical changes occur within these two settings. It is hard to guarantee the longevity of a group which utilizes an alternative setting structure because it may be dependent on funding from within, and may collapse if the funding, from grants, fundraising, etc dry out. It is important for an alternative setting to have a set of standards regarding who the accept funding from. Government may attempt to step in by offering funding for certain services, but then these organizations may have to abide by the government’s rules in order to continue receiving these funds. That was the dilemma faced by the Women’s Health Center when the government’s practice of selective funding limited the kind of services the clinic could provide (Morgen, p 203).

Individuals may choose to participate in any of the five strategies depending on what their personal philosophy and feelings are on a given issue. That is not to be confused with collective action in the form of what community coalitions and other such groups may advocate. In that sense the LGBT movement in the LGBT community would be two different things. The LGBT movement would imply some form of activism whereas the LGBT community simply refers to the collective members of the community, regardless whether they are activists or not. I personally know quite a few members of the LGBT community who are not politically active in any way for any cause. It would be a flaw in logic to assume that the LGBT movement for the right to get married (gay marriage, for example, as opposed to trans-, or intersex- marriage), would reflect the opinion of every member in the LGBT community. Therefore, any strategy for change, be it women’s rights, immigration rights, etc., is not representative of the entire population.

The wide spectrum of organizations, such as Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Howard Brown Health Center, for example, work in conjunction with each other within the LGBT community to fight for the rights and well-being of individuals with AIDS. Lambda Legal, as well as the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act all utilized policy, research, and advocacy as a strategy for change, and all thoughts on a national level to pass legislation to help protect people with HIV from discrimination. During the leaping phase, more radical strategies for change would be utilized: social action, for example, in the form of protests to draw attention to an issue: and, alternative settings, which would break the hierarchy inherent in the system by establishing a more egalitarian, form of governing/organizing. In the creeping phase, dialogue and negotiation would be the predominant philosophy utilized for change (D’Emilio, Cycles of Change, p 91).

In closing, I would like to assert that all of these five strategies are logical and beneficial, although it is of the utmost importance to assess the social/political environment, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each one of these strategies before deciding on how to proceed with a given movement. Different cultures have different mentalities and therefore different understandings (or misunderstandings) about a given issue. These differences need to be taken into consideration before taking the next step for change.

D’Emilio, John, Cycles of Change, Questions of Strategy: the Gay Lesbian Movement after 50 Years

D’Emilio, John, The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture, Duke University Press, Durham, 2002

European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights, website,

Levy, Ariel, Lesbian Nation: When Gay Women Took to the Road, the New Yorker, March 2, 2009

Morgen, Sandra, the Dynamics of Cooptation in a Feminist Health Clinic, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 23, No. 2, p 201 – 210, 1986

Riger, Stephanie, Challenges of Success: Stages of Growth in Feminist Organizations, Feminist Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, Women’s Agency: Empowerment and the Limits of Resistance. (Summer, 1994), p 275 – 300

Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women who Started It: the memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1987

Schechter, S., Women and Male Violence: the Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women’s Shelter Movement, South End Press, 1982


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